‘I’ve come a long way’: Jazz guitarist Chet Breau’s journey from 600 pounds to performing again

By | January 29, 2019

Nearly two years ago, Lenny Chet Breau found himself in the hospital with his life hanging in the balance.

At 602 pounds the jazz guitarist was morbidly obese, and his body was shutting down from congestive heart failure.

“They had to do surgery immediately in order to save me,” Breau recalled. “They weren’t making any promises if I was going to live or not, that’s for sure. If I didn’t go by an ambulance that day I probably would have died that night.”

Guitarist Chet Breau is getting back on stage, spiritually stronger and 200 pounds lighter. (Jim Agapito/CBC News)

Breau had reached a breaking point in his life, both physically and mentally, one that had been building since the mysterious death of his father, renowned musician Lenny Breau. 

On Oct. 12,1984, the brilliant jazz guitarist was found dead in the roof-top swimming pool of his apartment building in Los Angeles. The autopsy report concluded that he had been strangled and his death was ruled a homicide. No charges were laid and the cold case remains unsolved.

“After he died, I always felt sad,” his son recalled. “I couldn’t listen to his music for over 10 years. And when I did, it brought on such deep, deep hurt.”

Breau’s father, renowned jazz musician Lenny Breau, was killed in Los Angeles in 1984. His homicide remains unsolved. (Submitted by Chet Breau)

Breau numbed the pain with food and alcohol to the point where it took over his life.

“For the most part you don’t even realize it until you are a couple hundred points heavier,” he said. “It just creeps up. It just becomes the norm. You’re almost not conscious of a lot of things when you are in that depressive of a state.”

After his near-death experience from congestive heart failure, Breau now eats a healthy diet and swims for 30 minutes daily. (CBC / Jim Agapito)

It was especially surprising because Breau had been an athlete, passionate about martial arts and boxing.

“I have a black sash in kung fu, and I taught and trained with Donny Lalonde, the boxer. It took years and years to get heavy.”

Chet now swims for 30 minutes daily,maintains a healthy diet, is in a recovery program for his addictions, teaches guitar and practises Buddhism. And though he has lost more than 200 pounds he knows he still has a long road ahead: “I just have to do it one more time. Another 200 and I’ll be back down to normal.”

Breau credits his Buddhism practice with helping him recover. (CBC / Jim Agapito)

He’s been preparing himself both physically and mentally for the next chapter of his musical career — the possibility of touring both nationally and internationally.

He returns to the stage on Jan. 29 during a jazz series in Winnipeg. 

“I think, all and all, it’s an attitude of gratitude” he said. “When your liberties are taken from you, you realize to be able to get up and be able to walk and get dressed, and do something, that’s huge. I want to be as busy as B.B King was, I want to see the whole world. If I can do it, and make a living at doing this, that’s what I want to do.”

Nearly two years ago, Lenny Chet Breau found himself in the hospital. He was morbidly obese, weighing 602 pounds, and his body was shutting down from congestive heart failure. 6:07